Let me share a short story, before I invite you to dive with me into the world of Visual Intercultural Storytelling Art Adventures.
It was a cosy January evening last year, filled with the smells and tastes of delicious food. Our exchange student from Peru, Giovanna, my teenage daughter, Julia, and I were sitting at the dining table chatting, laughing and mingling languages, German, English, Spanish and Polish. My son and my husband were upstairs. Suddenly the telephone rang. My Mom was on the phone. „Are you busy now? Can you talk?“, she asked in a tense voice.
I froze. Somewhere deep inside, I felt something was wrong. A certain impression of cold air filled the room. What I heard next, went beyond my imagination. My Mom had a cancer. I immediately thought how to arrange the travel to South Poland to visit her. I was supposed to offer a storytelling workshop in Vienna in a couple of days so I hoped to combine the trips and go directly from Vienna to Poland. Back then, I had no idea, it would be my last face-to-face project abroad.
All in all, I managed to fly via Warsaw to Katowice in February. The first signs of pandemics made traveling challenging. Masked passengers, anxiety and above all, uncertainty how she was doing filled my mind. When I arrived, we spent some very intensive time, filled with laughing, crying, refreshing nice memories and talking about the treatment.
Soon afterwards the borders closed. Experiencing the distance between us was tough. On one hand side, we knew that feeling, on the other one – we could hardly cope with it in that new situation, when no-one knew what would happen next. Out of despair, every single day, I sent her a picture of a piece of art with a short description and a corresponding question. Sometimes, it took me couple of minutes to find a masterpiece and attach a corresponding question, that would fit her phase of treatment, sometimes, it took me one hour… I had no choice but trust my intuition. Many times, I thought: This picture is too banal, this sculpture is too irreal and I went on searching. During the course of time, I asked my Mom to concentrate on tiny tasks, accordingly to the idea that tiny steps are the first steps to reach the big goal. In her case – the big goal was recovery…
To my greatest relief, my Mom got operated and now is doing much better. When we saw each other last Summer she gave me a wonderful gift. Actually, two wonderful gifts. The first one was a book she printed with all the pictures and questions, comments, and descriptions I sent her and with her responses and reactions she wrote underneath. We talked to each other on the phone every day, and still, seeing that book, which witnessed our attempt to stay connected despite the circumstances, was a real treasure. All together, there were 152 masterpieces, photographs, sculptures, paintings, graphics and examples of architecture. The other unforgettable gift I received from my Mom was the sentence she said when she was handing over the self-made book: „I felt your presence every day. There were days, when the picture you chose, the description you sent and the task to focus on were the only positive thoughts.“
We have always known that no borders can divide us. We have always known that our relationship is very precious. What we did not know was that passion for art can play such an important role in these tough times.
As for me, I have appreciated the power of arts for my entire life. I was not surprised when I heard that physicians in Canada and the UK prescribe the visits to the museums and art collections to their patients. I cherished all the opportunities I had, to visit different art collections with my family and friends and I witnessed the transformational power of combining visual arts and sharing of stories to enhance intercultural exchange and mutual understanding. Last year, when I published the chapter in the Collaborative Change Library on the Visual Intercultural Storytelling Approach, I had no idea that the next step would be offering the visual intercultural storytelling art adventures in the virtual interactive sessions – shortly called by me vis-a-vis art adventures. These offerings attracted participants from around the globe, Canada, the USA, Chile, Kenia, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Iran, Japan and numerous European countries. I am grateful that the visual intercultural storytelling approach simply works. Storytelling matter… Arts matter… and combined, they let us meet in the midst of humanity and connect at a deeper level, leaving assumptions and biases aside.